Don’t Cry Over Spilled Paint

Don’t Cry Over Spilled Paint


A clipping from my father’s files marked “Peace Treaty” (about 1968-1969)

I was born in a tiny rural town in south-central Kansas named Medicine Lodge.  The town population hovers around 2,000 as it has for decades and it is located in the Red Hills region of the Great Plains. Temperance activist Carrie Nation launched her war against alcohol from Medicine Lodge in the early 1900’s.  You can tour her home if you are ever lucky enough to drive through this rather remote area of Kansas.  Triennially, Medicine Lodge holds a pageant to commemorate the 1867 Medicine Lodge Treaty, signed between the United States government and the Kiowa, Plains Apache, Southern Cheyenne and Southern Arapaho, near the city’s present-day location. The city first held the pageant in 1927 and has held it every three years since 1961.  Most of the actors in the pageant are locals who volunteer their time, talent, horses, wagons, and other western gear to put on the event and associated parade and jamboree.

My family was cast as part of the Lewis and Clark expedition in the pageant when we lived there in the 1960’s.  Dad, Mom, Tom and I rode in on a black buggy pulled by horses, my brothers Ed and Mike followed carrying a canoe, and then we collectively stood out in the vast prairie field in the appropriate attire of this unique time of western exploration while the narrator shared the pageant story. I have vivid memories of my childhood girlfriends preparing for the traditional Prairie Flower dance, the introductory spirit of the prairie scene, and struggling with my childish jealousy of their chance to wear gauzy, purple, blue, green, pink, lavender, yellow and orange gowns while moving in circular motions on the prairie floor while I was adorned in a rather, in comparison, buttoned-down silk knickers and a bonnet seated beside my family unit.  I can image what my brothers thought.  I don’t think Tom smiled once through the performance because for goodness gracious, they made him wear baby blue silk short pants and he was a pre-teen.  The men used the pageant as an excuse not to shave their beards during the weeks leading up to the pageant so they would look more authentic for their acting roles. My dad, playing the part of Levi Lincoln, loved to rub his prickly goatee on my young and tender skin just to hear me scream and then run away in a fit of giggles.

Growing up in such a tight knit community was a delight as I was well cared for by my parents  and surrounded by a community that loved me and my family.  We lived on Main Street and I could walk the two blocks downtown to the library, to my dad and mom’s offices, to the grocery store, to the swimming pool and the lazy Medicine river, to the vacant lot out back or to my friends’ houses that lived nearby.  On our block, there were many families with children but I was one of the youngest kids on the block.  The Rheas, The Stracks, The Newsoms, and the many other families all had at least three kids so there was always someone to play with including pick-up games of basketball, touch (and often tackle) football, bike rides, constructing elaborate forts from cast-off materials, and planning for kid-directed block events like a carnival, track meet, or play.  We charged people to attend these well-organized activities and we even had our own banking account for a while.  My brother, Ed, was usually the ring leader for the block events but all of us contributed in one way or another.  Life on the block was good except when it wasn’t.  Since we had so much freedom to play outdoors and away from our parents’ supervision, “accidents” did happen from time to time.

One involved me and gallon of oil house paint.  It was a hot, summer day and I was about eight years old. I lived just a few houses from the Rhea sisters so we often walked to the library to check out books together or I hung out with them while they did chores or practiced their musical instruments.  Teresa and Jeanne were four or five years older than me.  Teresa was willing to play Barbies with me and we often took the anorexic dolls outside and built tree houses for them in the bushes. I had the only Ken doll on the block so I frequently received invitations to play Barbie especially from prepubescent neighborhood girls who were exploring ideas of how Barbie would marry Ken and live happily ever after.  Teresa also taught me a ton of card games, jacks, and jump rope tricks.  I was enamored with her and wanted to spend all the time she would give me that summer.  On the day of the accident, Teresa and her older sister had a typical sister argument about something immediate and most surely unimportant in the long scheme of things but Jeanne had a temper and she flounced off from us and went into the house.  Teresa and I continued to play an exciting series of Jacks and completely forgot about the angry older sister.  We were playing Jacks on the concrete patio (you need a good hard surface for a good game of Jacks) behind their house situated at the base of a series of exterior stairs that led upward to a tiny deck before entering the backdoor of their home.  The same door that Jeanne had flounced through previously…  On the small deck were a couple of used house paint cans piled up on top of one another, a roller and other painting supplies.

Teresa and I were engrossed in flipping jacks and tossing the hard, red ball back and forth between us.  I remember hearing the screen door open above me. I saw Teresa look up at the landing above us. She yelled something at Jeanne.  There was a loud noise from the deck and Jeanne yelled back something I don’t remember.  The next thing I know the world around me is completely black, I can’t open my eyes and I feel something cold and wet all over my head and shoulders.  I reached up to my face and felt and then smelled wet paint all over me.  It was so thick that I couldn’t see what happened and I was disorientated and afraid.  Later I learned that Jeanne had “accidently” kicked the can of paint over the edge of the porch and it opened in mid-air showering me completely, head to toe, with paint (oil based).  My reaction was to stand up and sprint the three houses home hysterically crying for my mother.  I don’t know how I got there in the condition I was in.  I made it to the side door screaming her name.  She must have been in the kitchen, near the entry, because I remember her greeting me at the door and hugging me close to her.  She carried me into the back bathroom and calmly placed me in the bath tub.  All of the way dripping white paint onto her waxed hardwood floors. She ran the water and was able to wash much of the paint down the drain but there was a thin layer left on my skin and in my hair that adhered and would not rinse away.  It was a milky now and determined to stick as it was manufactured to do.  At least it was out of my eyes, mouth, nose and ears for the most part.

I remember she toweled me off and wrapped me up and the proceeded to the hall telephone to call Dr. Ball, one of two town physicians.  He actually got on the phone with her and walked her through the steps to get the rest of the paint out of my hair and removed from my skin.  I am sure his solution was totally toxic (gasoline?) compared to solutions today but after many hours of scrubbing, rinsing and repeating applications, I came clean.

I recall a sincere apology from Jeanne and her parents and all was forgiven and we moved on to continue to play together just like before.  No lawsuits, no screaming, no threats or mean talk.  Just an accident and a lesson to be more careful in the future and to remember what happens when we let anger and jealousy get the better of us.  Someone, innocent, usually ends up getting hurt.  A lesson we could all be reminded of today as our government goes into week two of a shut down.  I certainly won the friendship of two sister friends that must realize they went too far in their sibling rivalry and hurt an innocent bystander. My brothers were so happy they were not to blame for any part of the trauma of their little sister (they were guilty on other occasions).   I am still standing today and much wiser from the experience.


My brothers – Tom, Mike and Ed -who also grew up with me in Medicine Lodge and were part of the Main Street gang!


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